IN THE FAMILY WAY

The influences of Harper Lee and Anne Tyler are strongly present in this winning, if borderline-sentimental, second novel by the author of the wistful Sam’s Crossing (1993). “I spent a large part of my childhood on the other side of doors or just around corners,” Jeru Lamb confesses—while narrating in retrospect the story of his afflicted family’s attempts to heal itself in the aftermath of a loss that coincided with the assassination of a beloved President (JFK) and the dying spasms of segregation in their complacent South Carolina hometown (Greenville). The shadow cast over them was the death of Jeru’s younger brother Mitchell, when a dog the boys had always teased broke loose and savagely mauled Mitchell—a fate that guilt-ridden Jeru narrowly escaped. The Lambs (a beautifully chosen name) cope with their loss in various ways dictated by their differing natures. Jeru’s mother Muriel resorts to Christian Science and becomes pregnant again—to the despair of her husband Warren, who has quit his job and works obsessively at a book whose subject he won’t reveal. And Jeru—an engaging ten-year-old compound of naãvetÇ and precocious insight—tiptoes around the edges of his family’s other secrets, slowly maturing into the realization that other people’s (seemingly remote) lives are every bit as sorrowful and fascinating as his own. Hays filters through Jeru’s increasingly sophisticated consciousness a moving picture of small-town racial relations in 1963, as well as fully rounded characterizations of even initially marginal figures like Jeru’s resourceful Aunt Louise and Uncle Clem, and the preternaturally knowing Norma Jones, a schoolmate who holds the key to all he doesn’t know about his family. Not a totally original story (there’s a lot of To Kill a Mockingbird in it), but a mighty appealing one. Oprah will want to check out Tommy Hays.

Pub Date: July 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-375-50211-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1999

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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